Exiting the Commonwealth – General Thoughts on Fallout 4

After a month and a half, I have officially accomplished something I rarely do, and something I have never done with a Bethesda game: I finished Fallout 4 in its entirety, including receiving the platinum trophy. That’ll make my second platinum I’ve ever gotten (right behind one of my favorite games of all time, Shadow of Mordor). I never go for platinums. Having kids makes it difficult to focus on getting those platinums, mostly because you practically need to treat the game as a second job in order to do so. So, when I get a platinum, it really says something. The strange thing is, I have no idea why I went for this one. Out of all the Bethesda backed Fallout games, this was my least favorite. In fact, I’m not even sure I particularly liked the game.

Maybe it’s that gamer mentality of “must accomplish everything” that Fallout tends to scratch. The Animal Crossing factor, if you will. If you want a game that’s going to take you forever to find every location, track down every quest, this is your game. It’s practically endless in what you can do. The problem I have with the larger environment and more to do is that, due to the streamlining of a lot of the RPG elements, this leads to a LOT of the same in a very grindy fasion, with little to no real choices made throughout. In fact, the game even tells you, basically, where you need to save in order to see all four endings, and it only takes a few extra hours to grab all that stuff. If anything, the game feels dumbed down.

I suppose a lot of that has to do with the dialogue options. Bethesda decided to go the way of BioWare with the dialogue tree this time around, and more than anything, the options essentially make your character have “Good Guy Response,” “Evil Asshole Response,” “Total Dickhole Response,” or “Ask More Questions” response. I like as much information as possible, so I essentially went for the “Ask More Questions” response every time, until I was reaching the end. When I went back to replay certain quests in order to see all the endings, I chose “Dickhole,” “Evil,” and “Good Guy” randomly. Essentially nothing changed. Responses were a bit different, almost as though the dialogue changed the nuance of a performance, like you’re the director of a predetermined conclusion, which, I guess, you pretty much are. Even three of the endings are EXACTLY the same, with a sentence or two changed around for whichever faction you side with. What’s worse, the voice performance, even when you choose “Evil,” is so sweet and nice sounding, you never really get to define your character through your own actions. Even Witcher III let you do that, and that has a pre-written universe to abide by. All videogames that follow this “choose your own adventure” mentality may be on rails in a way, but never have I felt more like the wool was being pulled over my eyes with this fake sense of decision.

All of that would be fine if the story itself was a little better. Maybe it’s because I just came off playing Witcher, which was extremely well written, but the twists and turns, the pre-determined conclusions, just felt forced. I can’t, for the life of me, understand why anyone would call this game of the year. It’s a visually updated version of Fallout 3, eschewing all the interesting mechanics Obsidian had added to New Vegas. It really feels like Bethesda tried to build this game to be more accessible to the Call of Duty or Halo crowd.

The only place where Bethesda threw hardcore RPG players a bone was the addition of settlements, a sort of Sim City mini-game where you get to use any and all junk you find out in the world in order to build nice little living spaces for settlers who happen upon your creations via radio towers. This is probably where I spent the majority of my time in-game, though not because I was enjoying it (although I freely admit there was some enjoyment), but because I was troubleshooting. Debugging. It became like a second job. I would build up a settlement only to find that happiness would never go up. In fact, if I left the settlement at all, the numbers would go crazy until I returned. It wasn’t until I destroyed a television that somehow ended up in the settlement that the numbers started going back up. Apparently, there is a bug with televisions in settlements that makes it impossible to use them. It doesn’t affect everyone, but there it is.

Now, I know what you’re going to say: “It’s Bethesda, they’re going to have bugs.” And to that, I have three responses:

One – the settlement building system is half-hearted, half-coded, and badly implemented, regardless of the bugs. In order to get 100% happiness, you have to trick the system in such a way that it completely removes the entire intent behind building settlements in the first place. You could have the most aesthetically pleasing settlement on the planet with every amenity, they will never reach 100% happiness. No, you have to just build random shit to hit 100. 16 level 3 clinics parked wherever (I built mine in the middle of the road because fuck it) is how you can get them up to like 98%. Then, to get that last two percent, I just started building TVs wherever. I built 32 televisions in the middle of town and happiness bumped up to 100%. I then reloaded my game back to where my town didn’t look effing retarded, but still had a city of unhappy people. The entire happiness system is built to get you an achievement, and once you have that, settlements are meaningless. I let them languish after I had the achievement, it didn’t affect my game in any way.

Two – settlements change the way you play Fallout. You’re lead to believe what you do with settlements affects you in some way, so you start out trying to keep all these unhappy jerks happy even though it’s impossible. That means you pick up EVERYTHING. No longer do you look through a chest and think, “No, that spatula is junk, leave it.” You take it all on the off chance that you might need it for a cat painting or something. So, the game becomes more of a “do a mission, drop your stuff off” grind. There’s less exploring that way. In New Vegas, I would see something off in the distance and end up on a three hour tangent traipsing through a vault randomly. It was awesome. There is some of that in Fallout 4, but nowhere near the amount they use to have in smaller, older games. To put it simply, crafting is near pointless and a pain in the ass and you can just stop doing it after awhile.

Three – I’m tired of defending Bethesda’s bugs. They had, what, seven years to work on this game, and it’s still half broken upon release. And I’m not even talking about the randomness factor – there’s a computer console during one quest, a side quest that’s branched off the main quest, where the console itself is inaccessible. You can access the console because the chair is clipped into the desk. Minor placement. This is not a secret console in the middle of the Glowing Sea, this is a console DURING a quest. And you can’t sit at it. You have to be trying to miss it. Bugs like this are unacceptable. Videogames are expensive, and the amount of legitimate game-breaking bugs in Fallout 4 are astounding, probably as bad as Daggerfall. I am no longer willing to spend $60 on a game that is incomplete. I’d rather wait a year for the Game of the Year edition that will inevitably be released with all the patches.

Now, it should be noted that the console versions of Fallout 4 are worse than the PC version, but that’s mostly due to the console. Not the videogame console, but the console where you’re able to mod the game. You can fix all sorts of problems in the console, and modders have already improved the PC version. I actually find this unacceptable as well – a game with this big a budget, with this long a development schedule, some of the bugs are just sloppy. We shouldn’t have to rely on the modding community or console fixes in order to enjoy the game. If games like Witcher and Shadow of Mordor can have massive open worlds without relying on a console to patch bugs, why can’t Bethesda? They’ve been making games like this for 20 years, you’d think they’d work out the bugs by now.

Overall, Fallout 4 is not a terrible game. It’s a fine game. There were fun parts. If anything, I’d say it’s average, with some heavily frustrating bugs. It doesn’t push the series forward in any notable way (other than the fully voice acted main character which, if anything, hinders the game). In some ways, it’s a step backward. But it will still make a ton of money, get multiple game of the year awards, and not receive the kind of criticism Bethesda sorely needs from the videogame news/review industry. People will continue to defend Bethesda, but they were surpassed by other companies using their same formula many years ago. They don’t even make the most broken games anymore (Ubisoft)!

I put close to 100 hours into this game, and I think, after writing this review, I know why. I had to see if it got better, if there was some glimmer of what makes me love this series so much. I’ll admit, I saw that glimmer here and there. But overall, within a week, I’ll probably forget about my time in the Commonwealth, but I will continuously replay New Vegas, simply because every single playthrough has provided some new and exciting story. In the case of Fallout 4, that is simply impossible.

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